Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Beating Daesh

While the ideology of the Islamic State group must be confronted wherever it springs up, Arabs bear a special responsibility to open pathways to overcome it, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

As I have written before in this column, it is important to draw a distinction between “Daesh” and “Daeshism”, the first being an organisation that can be degraded and destroyed, the second an ideology that has to be fought, which is more difficult. Now we can be sure that the Daesh “caliphate” straddling Syria and Iraq will cease to exist. There is sufficient evidence that that entity is receding and that its forces are fleeing. The international and regional coalition has Mosul and Raqqa in its sights and is determined to put an end to Daesh, and perhaps the only cause for delay is that the coalition partners are not looking at the result of the battle but at the shape of the Middle East to come, which is the focus of the current diplomatic and political battle. But this is not my subject today. Rather it is how do we not win the battle but lose the war? How do we not defeat “Daesh” only for “Daeshism” to prevail, as it seems that while the latter is meeting its demise in the Fertile Crescent, it is spreading across the entire planet through various means — from special operations and suicide bombings to attacks by loan wolves and even individuals carrying only a knife.

To be frank, defeating “Daeshism” is, above all, an Arab task. This is not because we are solely responsible for the rise of this phenomenon. Many other countries, groups and factors played a part, such as the US and allies’ occupation of and subsequent withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the treatment of Arab and Muslim minorities abroad. However, we are the ones at risk from the constant propagation of terrorists and we are the first victims and the first to be accused of terrorism. To this we could probably add another reason: we are the ones who have the greatest capacity to contend with “Kharijites” in the realm of ideas and also to wage the battle for hearts and minds at which, we should admit, Daesh has acquired considerable skills. Daesh is the “fourth generation” of terrorists, the first being the Muslim Brotherhood movement, the second the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and Jihad movements and their many derivatives, and the third Al-Qaeda. Each generation in one way or another branched off from its predecessor, so the four have remained at once mutually compatible and antagonistic. In all events, they all seek to use various means to demolish the contemporary Arab state.

They are all characterised by a “religious” rhetoric combined with a “militant” rhetoric. The former is used to fire zeal and muster support, the latter to organise, terrorise and kill. Instruments have ranged from sermons and doctrinal tracts (Hassan Al-Banna and Sayed Qotb) to conspiracies and assassinations (Aboud Al-Zomor), and from televised and video-filmed messages (Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahri) to social networking media (Ibrahim Al-Baghdadi). Each generation seized upon the historical moment and technologies of its time in order to channel them toward the most pernicious and malevolent ends in the name of Islam.

While the mother movement and the first generation paved the way and succeeded in developing an international presence, the fourth generation is more vicious and more widespread. This is the generation that set the vision of the “caliphate” on the beginning of the course to realisation in the minds of young people across the world, linked up through Twitter and Facebook around the clock.

In his book, The United States of Jihad, which studies the cases of 330 American “jihadists”, Peter Bergen mentions that from September to December 2014, some 46,000 Twitter accounts were working for Daesh. In addition, YouTube is used very efficiently to drive home the idea of “victimhood” and disseminate the psychological disposition, as well as to advertise the power to slaughter, exact revenge and turn anger into an ode to destruction. Those long and boring sermons broadcast by Al-Zawahri to his disciples are a thing of the past. So, too, is the need for extensive jurisprudential arguments to justify terrorism. This is the age of colourful videoclips that stimulate sick imaginations with the “best” scenes of murder, abduction, terror and destruction. Ultimately, what you have is an intricate network focused on arousing the vilest sentiments and the crudest minds and driving them, whether now or in the future, to acts of destruction against contemporary societies.

Whether Raqqa falls today or tomorrow, the battle against this phenomenon will continue for a long time. Moreover, this is the type of war that will require more than the wisdom of politicians and the genius of generals. Yet, while a large body of literature on terrorism and terrorists has accumulated, especially in the West, that which has emerged so far from Arab and Islamic countries has been neither comprehensive or profound. The prevalent approach to combating “Daeshism” rests primarily on the idea of “renewing religious thought” and relying on official religious establishments to undertake this task. This is not sufficient. In fact, its potential is limited, because the “renewal” may sometimes offer nothing really new, something that draws a clear distinction between what the former Grand Imam of Egypt Ali Gomaa referred to as “source-based Islam” (based on the Quran and the true Sunna) and “chronological Islam” (in which the faith and creed were affected by the vicissitudes of time, changing historical circumstances and personal or political interests). The fact is that the current religious institutions, as centrally important as they are, are still very traditional and conservative, and they are worried — legitimately so — by the possibility that the defence of Islam may be confused with an attack against it.

Since the ideological battle requires much more, the place to start is with the acquisition and processing of knowledge. This, in turn, requires institutions and organisations that are specialised in the study of terrorism, but that differ from those that currently exist in the framework of the security establishments in the Arab world, as “counterterrorist” agencies in these countries are concerned primarily with defeating terrorists as opposed to eliminating the ideological roots of the phenomenon. Perhaps the first task of the specialised Arab research organisations should be to study the cases of the terrorists who have been arrested, whether before or after committing a terrorist act, and whether or not they are serving sentences. There are thousands of terrorists in Arab prisons and there is abundant information about their social, economic and cultural backgrounds. This could give us the starting point for studying what makes a terrorist; why killing, to him, is a form of physical and mental pleasure and, more importantly, what ideas made him run blindly into the arms of terrorism and “Daeshism” in particular.

Civilian research institutions, applying the latest scientific research methods, should also attempt to identify the “deviation point” — the point where the readings of the true faith turned into destructive readings. How was it possible for a religion that was once reputed as the most tolerant and environmentally adaptable religion and that was, until recently, the fastest growing religion in the world, to have become the religion most under the international glare for its association with violence and terrorism? Perhaps the Arab League could take the initiative toward helping to solve this puzzle. Or maybe some Arab countries could lead the way.

Whatever the case, this task should be a collective effort, as terrorism has no nationality and will use anyone, whether born in the Arab world or born in France, the US or elsewhere.

The writer is chairman of the board, CEO, and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

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